trust2 I have already commented on the discrepancy between the BBC’s statement about their 2006 climate change seminar and the evidence submitted to the Information Tribunal by Helen Boaden, the then Director of News. Whereas the latter seems to be claiming that the input provided by external attendees at the seminar had a major impact on programme content, the former is at pains to downplay any impact, apparently in light of the very surprising contents the participants list.

Now I want to look at another strange aspect of the BBC’s statement; a very cynical
assertion:

There has been no censoring of climate change reporting. We have attempted to report proportionately. Indeed The BBC Trust’s science review of last year praised our coverage.

See Melanie Phillips in the Daily Mail

There is absolutely no doubt that the BBC Trust’s report, authored by Professor Steve Jones, did deliver such praise, however it also dismissed, and misrepresented, an obviously relevant and well referenced submission that Andrew Montford and I provided in a couple of sentences.

A submission made to this Review by Andrew Montford and Tony Newbery (both active in the anti?global?warming movement, and the former the author of The Hockey Stick Illusion: Climategate and the Corruption of Science) devotes much of its content to criticising not the data on temperatures but the membership of a BBC seminar on the topic in 2006, and to a lengthy discussion as to whether its Environment Analyst was carrying out BBC duties or acting as a freelance during an environment programme at Cambridge University. The factual argument, even for activists, appears to be largely over but parts of the BBC are taking a long time to notice.

BBC Science Review, p72

Had Professor Jones considered what we were telling him, then the BBC would not now be embroiled in yet another scandal impugning both its impartiality and its trustworthiness.

The submission is here, and it sets out in detail all our concerns about the activities of the organisers of this seminar and the BBC’s unwillingness to come clean about who attended it. The length to which the BBC Trust went in order to avoid facing-up to a problem that, like Jimmy Saville’s behaviour, would obviously become more damaging the longer it was suppressed, is detailed in our submission to the Leveson Tribunal from §60 onwards. We were not even able to obtain confirmation that the Trustee responsible for the review was aware that we had requested permission to make a submission.

One might think that, given the way in which the BBC is beset with scandals concerning Saville and possibly others, Newsnight’s gratuitous assault on Lord McAlpine’s reputation, and now the secret climate change seminar - with even the Trust’s chairman, Lord Patton, admitting that trust needs to be restored and, ‘What we now need to do is get a grip on what’s happening in the BBC, including the journalism which is at the heart of what we do’ - the BBC statement might do better than attempt to invoke some Professor Jones sycophantic praise. In fact it would seem that he was more concerned with praising his paymasters than doing his job properly. When the opportunity, indeed the necessity, arose some two years ago to air the issues surrounding the seminar calmly, and long before our national broadcaster was under fire as never before, the chance was missed.

And still no one at the BBC seems to realise that the time for dissembling and hoping that problems will just go away is over. As I write, a new angle on the seminar story is breaking on the website of Dr Richard North (not to be confused with Ridhard D North who attended the seminar)

Climate change: another of those interesting networks

If a bomb has now exploded in the BBC’s face, then they have had plenty of warning that it was ticking.

Oh! And do read Christopher Booker tomorrow!

Nov 162012

As soon as I’d had a chance to look at the list of attendees at the BBC’s 2006 Climate Change - the Challenge to Broadcasting seminar that Maurizio found on Monday night I wrote to the Litigation Department of the BBC . People who are fortunate enough to be unfamiliar with court proceedings may not be aware that there is a lot of behind the scenes contact between the parties about the ‘housekeeping’ practicalities of getting the case to court in good order. These generally take place in a spirit of cordial cooperation and in this case have been going on for several years. Getting on with the other side, and even having the odd giggle about this-and-that when the judge isn’t present, make life more pleasant and in no way impede anyone’s will to win. When the time comes, business is business, and no hard feelings.

So this is the email I sent the BBC on Tuesday morning:

In view of the decision of the Tribunal received last week, I am considering seeking permission to appeal and I understand that I have 28 days from the date of the decision to do so.

It would greatly assist me if the BBC would confirm or deny that a document published on the internet last evening is the participants list that formed part of the withheld information and which was also the main focus of the Tribunal hearing.

The report that I am referring to can be found here:

http://omnologos.com/full-list-of-participants-to-the-bbc-cmep-seminar-on-26-january-2006/

Yours sincerely

On Wednesday morning I emailed again asking for confirmation that my message had been received, something I don’t think I’ve had to do before with the BBC. It had of course occurred to me that the solicitor I had written to would need to take instructions from her clients, BBC management, and that my request might be causing some head-scratching. Again no answer.

Then yesterday evening (Thursday) a response arrived. This confirmed that my messages had been received and went on to explain that the Information Tribunal had found that the information I requested was held by the BBC for the purpose of journalism. Therefore the BBC had correctly applied the designation under the FOIA that allows them to withhold such information. So the BBC are not required to disclose any information and will not comment on the list of names that I referred to.

In other words, the BBC will neither confirm nor deny that the list that is available on the Wayback Machine is the real thing.

Although this may make sense in purely legalistic terms, I suspect that the BBC Litigation department’s clients may be suffering from a serious common sense deficit. Do they really think that if they stay shtum this scandal will go away, rather than continue to snowball?

My feeling is that there will have to be a cataclysm at the BBC before the mists of arrogance and the type of groupthink that may be described as ‘the BBC culture’ can be dispersed. But will there be anything worth salvaging at Broadcasting House then?

Melanie Phillips of the Daily Mail has obtained a statement from the BBC on what is beginning to be known as ‘28gate’, although ‘BBC-Gate’ would seem to be more user-friendly. The statement is very interesting, but probably not in the way in which the BBC press department intended.

Here it is:

‘There has been no censoring of climate change reporting. We have attempted to report proportionately. Indeed The BBC Trust’s science review of last year praised our coverage. The event certain bloggers have referred to was one in a series of seminars for BBC editors and managers. They were a forum for free and frank discussion of global issues and not created to produce programming nor set story direction. They involved external contributors from business, science and academia. Seminars such as this do not set editorial policy. They can over time and along with many other elements help inform our journalism through debate and access to expertise, but the setting of our editorial policies is a formal process involving BBC Boards and the BBC Trust.

‘The BBC has refused disclosure on the basis that the documents were held for the purposes of journalism, art or literature, and are therefore outside the scope of the BBC’s designation under FOI Act. The Information Tribunal has unanimously upheld this. The seminar was conducted under the Chatham House Rule to enable free and frank discussion, something that is necessary for our independent journalism.

‘IBT were one of a range of organisations and different voices the BBC worked with in delivering these seminars. They are no longer involved. The events were considered against our editorial guidelines and raised no issues about impartiality for the BBC or its output.’

In passing, the straw man argument set up in the first paragraph - that the BBC is being accused of ‘censoring climate change reporting’ - looks like an attempt to avoid the real issues. The accusation is that the BBC has made a false claim that editorial policy on climate change was informed, and presumably underpinned, by a ‘seminar with the best scientific experts’ when it is now clear from Maurizio Morabito’s research (omnologos blog) that nothing could be much further from the truth. They are also being accused in the blogosphere, and now in the MSM too, of expending a lot of time and money on trying to cover up this fact.

But the most startling assertion in the BBC statement is that the seminar was not intended “to produce programming nor set story direction.” Helen Boaden’s witness statement for the Tribunal hearing does in fact say much the same thing, but goes on to identify output that the seminar did influence, including Dr Ian Stewart’s notorious three part hatchet job on climate sceptics, Earth: The Climate Wars.

Continue reading »

ofcom Very many congratulations to Mauizio for finally breaking the logjam and making some progress at last on the ‘Great Climate Change Seminar Mystery’. But now the work really begins.

At the moment it is hardly possible to pick up a paper or listen to a news report without being told that trust in the BBC has been severely damaged. This is both true and particularly sad when the Corporation is just approaching its ninetieth anniversary. Impartiality and accuracy are the characteristics that established the BBC as the world leader in its field even in times of political turmoil, war and social unrest. As John Bridcut made clear in his ‘Wagon Wheel’ report, this reputation for integrity is the core of the BBC brand and if it is damaged that endangers the whole edifice.

We now know that someone within the BBC told Bridcut, when he was researching his report, that a seminar ‘with the best scientific experts’ informed a major editorial decision on how climate change was to be presented to the public at a crucial moment in the battle to persuade the public to take anthropogenic global warming seriously. And make no mistake, the BBC is not just a source of information, like Wikipedia or the reference section of a library, it is a major opinion former too. How the BBC decides to portray current affairs really matters and has an enormous effect.

The names on the list that Maurizio has published in no way justify the claim made in the ‘Wagon Wheel’ report. It is not enough for the BBC to merely make an apology and a correction at this late stage; much, much more is needed if the organisation’s reputation is to be restored.

What the Saville scandal has shown us is that there is a culture of deceit - and of turning a blind eye to unwelcome problems - at the BBC which extends back over decades. The BBC must be forced to institute a proper inquiry into why Bridcut was misinformed and then tens of thousands of pounds in legal costs were committed to keeping the affair under wraps, just like Saville’s appalling behaviour.

That is the next task.

As a first step I have asked the BBC’s Litigation Department to confirm or deny that the list Maurizio has found is the one that I requested at the hearing a fortnight ago.

Andrew Orlowski of The Register has written a very accurate and fair account of happenings at the Central London Civil Justice Centre last Monday. This was the first day’s hearing of my appeal against the Information Commissioner’s decision that the BBC were correct to refuse a request for the names of the ‘best scientific experts’ who attended their seminar entitled ‘Climate Change - the Challenge to Broadcasting’ in January 2006. This expert advice was cited on page 40 of the BBC Trust’s excellent report ‘From Seesaw to Wagon Wheel: Safeguarding Impartiality in the 21st Century’ as the authority for a very important editorial decision.

I’ve written about this very strange seminar here and many other times at Harmless Sky.

The judgement will probably be handed down in 4-6 weeks time and I do not intend to blog about the proceedings in any detail until then. For one thing, I will not be able to decide whether I received a fair hearing until I see what the Tribunal has to say.

What is certain is that presenting my case in person, without legal representation, was an interesting experience, if sometimes puzzling, frustrating and downright irritating. And the second day’s proceedings, which Andrew Orlowski was unable to cover, were no less remarkable than the first. I am particularly grateful to my wife who sat through it all with me, sometimes confirming my own views with a nudge and raised eyebrows, continually making notes, and then helping decide where the next priority might lie whenever there was a chance to talk things through.

As we drove home the next day through the grey, windy, cold late autumn countryside we passed a snack van in a lay-by just outside Malvern. It had been a pretty bruising couple of days and visions of comfort food in the form of a bacon roll were too great a temptation. We swerved to a halt.

Continue reading »

Will you help?

Posted by TonyN on 08/10/2012 at 8:34 pm The Countryside, The Wind 2 Responses »
Oct 082012

Via James Delingpole

Our beautiful village in one of the prettiest parts of the Northamptonshire countryside is threatened by an industrial wind turbine. We have just 48 hours to stop it. Please can you give 10 minutes of your time to help?

The place: our patch of Northamptonshire – the Staverton Hills – is unspoilt, beautiful and very special. It includes the stone-built villages of Badby and Charwelton, and the glorious Fawsley Estate. At Grad II * listed Fawsley you can wander amid lakes, Capability Brown parkland, medieval ridge-and-furrow pastureland and woods teeming with bats, birds (including all three types of indigenous woodpecker, numerous raptors, waterfowl such as teal and crested grebes), deer, badgers and other wildlife. There’s an Elizabethan haunted house, a 12th century church (where George Washington’s ancestor is buried), a 15th century manor house), the remains of a lost medieval village, Roman roads…. I hope you can all visit one day.

All this is now threatened by a 45 m industrial wind turbine which has been recommended for approval by the district council planning officer. The meeting is on Wednesday 10 October at 6pm. This single turbine is the thin end of the wedge: if permission is granted then the area will be declared an industrial zone and soon many more will spring up like skeletons in Jason & the Argonauts. It will blight the area for years to come, disturbing the peace with its intermittent humming, killing bats and birds, ruining the health of those who live nearby (the closest house is just 600 metres away), ruining the views.

You can help stop this.  Just follow the instructions below: (and thanks: I know it’s a hassle but just 10 mins effort on your part could help spare one of Britain’s loveliest spots for more than a generation….)

Please follow these instructions exactly…..

Badby Wind Farm

A wind turbine development is being proposed in rural Northants blighting the rural landscape and sited within 800m of local homes. The initial turbine will be immediately on the right as the A361 climbs from Daventry past Badby.

We desperately need all objectors (from any area in the country) to send a simple email to the council setting out one or more genuine objections. Please email this to at least 10 of your friends to do the same. Numbers count.

For more details on the application go to Planning Application Search and search for DA/2012/0225

To lodge an objection, simply use the template below and insert your objections using your own words.

Every additional email counts – so separate emails from husbands, wives and children all count. Your extra email will make a difference.

Thankyou for helping us prevent another blot on our beautiful countryside.

James Delingpole

=============================================================

**** YOU CAN CUT & PASTE BUT YOU MUST MAKE IT YOUR OWN LETTER BY CHANGING THE WORDS TO SUIT YOUR OWN VIEWS. ****

Mr K Thursfield
Development Control Manager
Daventry District Council
Lodge Road
Daventry
Northants
NN11 4FP

My house
My street
My town
My postcode

6th October 2012

By email: kthursfield@daventrydc.gov.uk

bcc James@jamesdelingpole.com (please note: BCC – BLIND COPY – not CC. so we record submissions properly)

Dear Sir

Planning Application DA/2012/0225

I would like to object to DA/2012/0225 because . . . .

[write your own views in your own words  – examples shown below] 

1. The site has an adverse impact on the peace and enjoyment of the Special Landscape Area – The Staverton Hills and is in full view of those travelling from Daventry to Banbury.

2. The turbine is less than 1 km of homes and its inappropriate size, and siting adversely affects the quality of life for local residents to an extent that it outweighs any possible benefit or contribution to regional renewable energy targets.

3. Due to its close proximity to local residences there will be noise nuisance, low frequency noise with risk of Arythmia, wind shear and shadow flicker

4. Damage to bats, birds and migration habits.

5. The turbine has an adverse impact on historic and cultural heritage, particularly Badby, Catesby and Grade II listed Fawdsley Estate, the restoration of which is being assisted by Natural England.

6. There is no proper provision within the application for decommissioning.

7. There is no financial assessment of the costs and method of decommissioning, particularly the concrete base.

8. There is no provision in the plan for funding the substantial costs of decommissioning particularly the concrete base.

Yours Faithfully

My Name

===========================================================

  A great deal of time has been spent drafting a witness statement for the Leveson Inquiry which has now been published as part of the official record of proceedings. It is a joint effort over the signatures of Andrew Montford of Bishop Hill and myself and we are grateful to the Inquiry for giving a couple of climate sceptics a fair hearing, something that experience has taught us not to expect.

The submission can be found here in the MS Word version submitted to the Inquiry, with all the links working, and here at the Inquiry website in a PDF version without live hyperlinks produced by the Inquiry. I have leveson2requested that the official version should be reformatted to included the links as their absence is confusing to readers and gives the impression that we have failed to reference important documents that we have quoted from.

This submission is, necessarily, a long document as its purpose is to provide evidence to a judicial inquiry chaired by a law lord and administered by a team of lawyers. So at an early stage it was agreed between us that there was a lesser risk in being long than in failing to be thorough. After all, the submission’s intended audience are primarily people accustomed to reading long and complicated documents presenting evidence.

That said, our efforts seem to have received some praise in comments at Bishop Hill and I was interested to note that several people reckoned that there was material for a book in the subject matter we covered. That was my feeling too, and one of the reasons the submission took so long to write was the constant need to select things to leave out so that the document didn’t become unmanageably long. Many of these topics were quite interesting and could bear further exploration.

I apologise for the number of typos that have survived into the finished text. This is in spite of proof reading by Andrew, my wife, and myself. It’s strange how often commenters on blogs focus on such shortcomings in a document rather than its content. And funnier still that when one tries to enlist such people as voluntary copy editors there never seem to be any takers!

Jun 172012

(This post by Geoff Chambers may be a harbinger of better things to come. I certainly hope so. TonyN)

This dialogue was a result of contact I made with Adam Corner following an article by Ben Pile at http://www.climate-resistance.org/2012/03/shrinking-the-sceptics.html about some research into scepticism which Corner had conducted at Cardiff University, and his article discussing the research at Guardian Environment. (There was a similar thread later at http://bishophill.squarespace.com/blog/2012/5/28/the-logic-at-yale.html concerning the Kahan research which Corner refers to below)

Comments were pretty brutal, and Adam suggested that he would be willing to continue the conversation if the tone was moderated. We exchanged a few emails discussing my views on this kind of research, and Adam suggested writing a Q&A session for his blog http://talkingclimate.org/

This article is being published simultaneously on both blogs – a world first, I believe.

There is a growing body of academic literature that seeks to understand, explain – and even overcome – climate change scepticism. But is it getting to grips with scepticism, or missing the point? In this exchange between Adam Corner (Talking Climate and co-author of the UK paper) and Geoff Chambers – (a regular commenter at several climate sceptic blogs), they discuss research on the psychology of scepticism.

ADAM:

In the last few months, two academic papers that make similar arguments about the nature and origins of climate change scepticism have been published. If there is one simple message to take from these two studies, it is that simply providing more information – or turning up the volume on the science – is unlikely to reduce scepticism about climate change. This is because scepticism about climate change is not primarily caused by a ‘misunderstanding’ of the science but by motivated reasoning processes – rooted in ideological differences – that mean that the ‘same’ evidence is not evaluated in the same way. Would you agree that scepticism about climate change has more to do with political views than an assessment of the science?

GEOFF:

Of course not. That would be to admit that my politics was overriding my reasoning capacities! The misunderstanding comes I think from confounding the tiny number of active sceptics, who’ve come to a reasoned conclusion, with the Jeremy Clarkson fans who show up in polls. You’re just not going to catch many of us in a survey of the general population. The “old white conservative male” label is no doubt true for the population at large, and can be easily explained, but it tells you nothing about the nature of reasoned scepticism.

I agree with you that turning up the volume on the science is unlikely to reduce scepticism about climate change, but not for the reason you give. The more people learn about the science, the more they see how dodgy is the climate science responsible for rising energy prices. One of the results of the Kahan study you refer to was that the more scientifically literate tend to be more sceptical.

ADAM:

What Kahan found was that being scientifically literate increased polarisation – that is, it amplified views on either side – but your instant equation of ‘the science’ with ‘rising energy prices’ illustrates an important point: climate science and climate policy get horribly confused. Rising energy prices are caused by political and economic choices: they have little if anything to do with climate science.

But things like rising energy prices, taxes, regulations, and restrictions on people’s behaviour have become synonymous with ‘climate change’. I believe – based on the available research – that this is why many people are sceptical. The answers to the problem of climate change look and feel like ‘left-wing’ solutions, and so the problem itself is downplayed or rejected.

GEOFF

I think we agree about the interpretation of Kahan. Belief / scepticism about climate change is strongly correlated with political views, but scepticism is also correlated with scientific literacy, though less strongly. This is what you’d expect. Conservatives are naturally suspicious of schemes which raise taxes, while environmentalism, sympathy for the third world, and Al Gore have got concern about climate change firmly identified as a left-wing cause.

I agree that “the answers to the problem of climate change look and feel like ‘left-wing’ solutions” – that is to say they look extremely expensive, and are therefore opposed most fervently by those who pay most taxes.

You say: “Rising energy prices are caused by political and economic choices: they have little if anything to do with climate science”. Renewables like wind and solar are more expensive than fossil fuels. If they ever account for a significant proportion of energy supply, they will cause prices to rise. The only reason for renewables is fear of the supposed danger of CO2, which is the central tenet of the climate science consensus.

ADAM:

I share your concerns about things like rising energy prices – although I don’t agree that renewables are to blame. However, your line of reasoning seems to conform what studies of scepticism are showing: your concerns about certain economic and political choices are driving you to question the ‘supposed danger’ of CO2. That suggests to me that if there were other policy options on the table – that didn’t involve rising energy prices – your doubts about the legitimacy of the underlying science would not be as strong. Would you agree?

There is some evidence that when people who are more sceptical about climate change are presented with other policy options – for example ‘geoengineering’ – their perception of the risks that climate change poses increases. Do you think that many sceptics would be less likely to doubt the reality or seriousness of climate change if tackling it had no impact on their lives, or could be shown to be ‘cost-free’?

GEOFF:

No I don’t think that many sceptics would be less likely to doubt the reality or seriousness of climate change if tackling it had no impact on their lives, or could be shown to be ‘cost-free’

I disagree most strongly that my concerns about certain economic and political choices are driving my climate scepticism. My scepticism is based on the same scientific grounds as that of other commenters on sceptic blogs, many of whom hold political opinions radically different from mine. We don’t deny that global temperatures have been rising irregularly for centuries, and that anthropogenic CO2 may be responsible for some of the recent rise.

Where we disagree with the consensus is on the higher estimates of climate sensitivity endorsed by the IPCC and the catastrophic effects which are supposed inevitably to follow.

However, I would agree that our political and cultural backgrounds strongly affect the way we express our scepticism. There are Tea Party types who think global warming is a commie plot to install global government; nimbys who don’t like windfarms; engineers scornful of the mathematical models used to generate temperature projections; scientists and academics fearful for the reputation of their professions; and Tories who don’t like hippy treehuggers. It takes all sorts.

Here are a couple of examples of culturally determined inputs to my own scepticism:

1) I was very impressed by reports by the institute of Forecasting suggesting that ordinary members of the public are often better at long-term forecasting that experts, since, in their ignorance, they tend to assume that things will go on much as before, whereas experts get carried away with every leap and bound on their graphs into predicting extreme outcomes. This appeals to my left-wing egalitarian instincts – an Orwell-type faith in the common sense of the common man, if you like.

2) My earliest research into the question of climate change was conducted in the pages of the Guardian, and I was shocked to see this once liberal broad-minded paper adopting a Pravda-like policy of news filtering and censorship, with George Monbiot, a journalist I’d admired, conducting petty vindictive campaigns against fellow-journalists and, after being the first journalist to acknowledge the seriousness of Climategate, making a Maoist-style confession of his error. I’m not personally the least interested in the science of climate change. I’m very interested in the existence of a rational left-of-centre press.

Unlike most sceptics, I think your project of exploring the socio-cultural roots of scepticism is a valid and interesting one. But I don’t think you’ll do it by getting members of the public to tick boxes on your batteries of yes/no questions.

ADAM:

So the biggest reasons for your scepticism are that you are disillusioned with the media and have, in your own words, an ‘instinct’ that the common man is often more trustworthy and reliable than the so-called ‘experts’? I share these concerns, although I don’t necessarily see how they detract from the seriousness of the underlying problem of climate change and what – on even conservative estimates – the negative effects are likely to be. But your explanation of your scepticism suggests that if proponents of climate change science – or policy – want to be taken seriously by sceptics, it will be by addressing social concerns like these, not by shouting the science louder.

So how would you say social scientists might get more enlightening answers about the socio-cultural roots of climate change scepticism? Do you think there is an argument for more direct engagement between sceptics and researchers?

GEOFF:

We’re arguing at cross-purposes here. My observations about the common man and forecasting and the Guardian are NOT the reasons I don’t believe in catastrophic anthropogenic global warming. I’ve offered them as possible contributory factors to my coming to these conclusions – a bit of auto-sociological analysis, if you like – as an antidote to the more common observations about conservative white males not wanting to pay taxes.

If proponents of climate change science – or policy – want to be taken seriously by informed sceptics, it will not be by addressing any particular socio-political concerns, but by persuading us that their science is right. In this I’m sure I speak for all sceptical bloggers, but, as I pointed out, we’re a tiny minority among the sceptic population at large, and possibly atypical.

You ask how social scientists might get more enlightening answers about the socio-cultural roots of climate change scepticism. Ask the sceptics is the short answer. We reveal an awful lot about ourselves in comments on blogs. Bishop Hill had a self-completion survey once of our demographics (age, sex, educational qualifications and geographical spread). However, I feel such a survey would only be enlightening if it covered activists or engaged participants on both sides of the divide.

Finally, do I think there is an argument for more direct engagement between sceptics and researchers? Certainly. Clearing up the misunderstandings as to the meaning of climate scepticism and the motivation of sceptics is the first necessary step in any dialogue.

Apr 102012

Once upon a time there was something called ‘tax’, which was a system of levies intended to fill the treasury vaults or, in the distant past, the royal coffers. Of course no one ever liked paying taxes very much, not ever, taxesbut at least the concept was easy enough to grasp and to justify. In a well-ordered society there should be funds available to meet the cost of communal needs, like defence forces, administration, health care, education, the police, the judiciary etc., and everyone should contribute.

We may have groaned about having to pay taxes, but at least we could understand why it was necessary. Now, all that seems to have changed. A pending announcement from the government about the much-heralded Green Deal illustrates just how far we have departed from the old concept of taxation. We’ll come to that in a moment, but first let’s look at a couple of stages in the evolution of taxes during the last few decades.

The idea of imposing taxes to change people’s behaviour, rather than merely to fund public services, is not new. Inflating the cost of alcohol in order to curb excess drinking, while at the same time diverting vast amounts from our pockets to the Treasury - for the public good of course - has long been a sure-fire earner for Chancellors of the Exchequer. By the middle of the last century, taxes on tobacco were fulfilling the same role, and the term ‘sin tax’ had entered the vocabulary.

This subterfuge has proved very successful, always providing that our political masters are careful not to reduce our smoking and drinking too much, which would kill the goose which lays the golden eggs. ‘Sin’, as a Bishop once said, ‘is always with us’, and a long succession of cash strapped governments have good reason to give thanks for that it is so.

Then came the age of Blair and Brown, when the electorate was encouraged to passively connive at the world of smoke and mirrors that those two arch deceivers inhabited.

Continue reading »

greenpeace For years I’ve received press releases from Greenpeace and have done little more than glance at them before they are consigned to an archive. Very few, if any, have had a direct bearing on climate change. The activities of the Japanese whaling fleet seemed to be the most popular topic, a controversy that lies beyond the remit of Harmless Sky.

This morning yet anther release arrived, but this caused me some concern as, although it too had nothing to do with climate change, it sounds a rather a scary warning about the path that green political activism might follow in the future. Here is what it had to say:

Greenpeace submitted the first test case European Citizens’ Initiative in December 2010. Please find below and online a concise briefing outlining our position on this engagement tool.

European Citizens’ Initiative – Greenpeace briefing

The Lisbon Treaty, which came into force in December 2009, enshrines the right for one million Europeans to petition the European Commission and require it to draft legislation on the basis of their demands (or justify its refusal to do so). This right is known as the European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI).

In December 2010, Greenpeace and Avaaz submitted a one million signature ECI in accordance with the rules established by EU treaties. The ECI was in response to the first authorisation by the Commission in March 2010 for the cultivation of a genetically modified (GM) crop in Europe in 12 years. This authorisation was in direct breach of a request by all 27 member states for a review of the approval system for GM crops. It also raised serious health and environmental concerns. The ECI therefore called for a moratorium on all new authorisations and a review of the GM approval process.

Now drumming up a million signatures on a petition sounds like a pretty onerous task – or it does until you look at the demography of the EU. With 27 member countries and a population of just over 500 million things seem a little different. To put it bluntly, fooling 1 in 500 of the population all of the time is not likely to pose much of a problem for organisations with the kind of spending power that Greenpeace, WWF or Friends of the Earth now have.

That said, the press release continues like this:

Greenpeace EU director Jorgo Riss said: “The citizens’ initiative is a good idea in principle, but in reality one million euros will go a lot further to lobby the Commission than one million signatures. Data requirements for the citizens’ initiative are far too restrictive, while lobbyists continue to have direct access without disclosing names and addresses, let alone their passport numbers. Over a year ago, one million people from all over Europe signed a one million citizens’ initiative for a moratorium on GM crops and a strengthening of safety assessments. Their voices have been heard, since the Commission has yet to authorise new GM crops.”

(At present, signatories are required to provide their date and place of birth together with other information from their passport or identity papers.)

So it appears that in the opinion of Greenpeace one million euros can buy lobbying on a scale that trumps a procedure requiring the EU  to either legislate or justify not doing so. And the cost is peanuts for exerting influence on a trading block that contributes a significant part of the global economy.

Just how much power over our politicians, our governance, and our lives to these organisations have now?

The whole press release can be found here.

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